I went out into my hot tub tonight, as I often do. The grandkids that I watch every day had gone home. I had dinner on the stove. The laundry was washed and folded and put away.
I stepped into the darkness and sank into the bubbling water. Ahhhhh.
As I always do, I raised my eyes to the sky.
And I saw a jet going over.
Now, you need to know that I live in North Central Massachusetts. There are only a few flight paths that go over my house. Every one of them shows me jets that are way, way, WAY up there. I only see a little silver spark up there. But I follow those sparks every night, as they cross my sky.
After almost a decade of sitting in my hot tub, watching the sky, I have figure out that there are only a few flight paths that go over me.
There is the path that clearly goes from Boston up to Montreal or Quebec. There’s the one that goes much higher up, along the eastern sky, seemingly from the south to the north along the coast.
I know the paths. I know the lights.
So tonight I was a little bit surprised to see a jet’s light coming up across my sky from South to North.
“Odd,” I thought. “Why is it in the middle, in between the two usual north to south flight paths?”
I put my head back, feeling the hot water on my aching neck.
And I saw that right behind the first little twinkle of light, there came another. Right behind it. Following the very same odd path.
And behind that? Another.
I was more than intrigued.
I began to count. 5–6–7…..there were SEVEN jets, flying high, crossing a flight path I had never seen before.
There was a moment of quiet, a moment of clouds, and then?
Five more silver lights, showing five more jets, all of them flying in a very straight line. One after the other, they crossed the sky above me. From south to north they went.
Then there was a short break.
And five more silver jet lights came along, on the exact, exact, same path. From the south to the north. They went diagonally across the paths of the flights that I have watched every night for almost ten years.
They were on a mission. They were in a line. They were clearly NOT passenger jets.
What the hell were they? And where were they headed?
So Paul and I have been married for going on 42 years. We’ve been a couple for close to 50.
After a while, even the most loving of relationships can get a little….settled. We recently talked (argued? I argued and he listened?) about the fact that we don’t go out much any more. We don’t find fun things to do together as much as we used to. Or as much as this stay-at-home-with-kids Nonni would like.
So on Friday, Paul sent me a text that said, “Hey! Let’s go to the movies on Sunday!”
I was so excited! I haven’t been to a movie since the last Hunger Games film came out.
All weekend long, as I went through my regular routines of laundry, shopping, visiting my mom, paying the bills, I kept thinking about a movie date. Paul did his usual weekend rituals too. He scooped up the dog poop, chopped the ice in the driveway, did his hours of billing paperwork. But last night, he said “We are going to the movies tomorrow!”
Sunday morning passed with dog walking, some writing for me, some more billing paperwork for him (he’s a psychologist in private practice….someday we’ll talk about Medicare for All). We had lunch, we set coffee up for tomorrow morning, and off we went for Date Night.
Into the giant multiplex theater we went, our pre-ordered tickets in hand. We got our popcorn and box of candy. We found our seats in the almost empty theater.
And we settled in with great anticipation to watch the previews.
Holy nihilistic horrors.
In between the countless ads for Coke products, credit cards, makeup, cars and fast food, we were treated to about 10 movie trailers.
By the time they ended, my mouth was open, my eyes were squinted and my hands were shaking like you wouldn’t believe.
What the absolute HELL?
If movies are a reflection of society, then we are in deep, deep, DEEP shit, my friends. As far as I can recall, we saw trailers for the following films:
A spy shoots up historical sites in Europe while drinking too much, sleeping with as many women as he can catch and driving his car over cliffs.
A young girl is possessed by demons into believing that she is talking to God when she’s really, um, ya know, possessed by demons. Cue the bleeding eyeballs.
An agoraphobic young woman is seduced and then tortured by her sadistic neighbors
Something happens that involves various space crafts, disgustingly oozy and aggressive aliens and a lot of women falling down.
A look back at WWI in all of its horrific glory; but compounded by the terror of a young man desperate to survive long enough to prevent a catastrophic death that will kill his only brother.
I think there were more, but by the time I got to them I was starting to whimper and I turned my attention to my popcorn.
“Jeez, honey, ” I whispered, “These movies are so horrible! I wouldn’t want to watch any of them!”
He agreed as we clasped hands in the darkened theater.
Then, at long last, our movie started.
“Uncut Gems” with Adam Sandler. We love Sandler, and the plot of the movie had looked intriguing.
A charismatic New York City jeweler always on the lookout for the next big score makes a series of high-stakes bets that could lead to the windfall of a lifetime. Howard must perform a precarious high-wire act, balancing business, family, and encroaching adversaries on all sides in his relentless pursuit of the ultimate win.
Should be very cool, right?
Wrong, wrong and wrong-oh-ramma.
We lasted for about an hour of the film. By that point, we had no idea of why the main character was doing anything that he was doing, who was with him and who was against him, and why any of it was even happening. There was a big fat gemstone, a very very handsome and appealing Kevin Garnett (played by the very very handsome and appealing Kevin Garnett) and other than that, we have no idea what was going on.
All we could tell for sure after an hour of enduring this “movie” was that it must be incredibly easy to write a major Hollywood script.
Even I could do it. Watch.
“What the F…. are you doing, you f…ing piece of f…ing shit?” “Oh, yeah? Well f…..you, you fu…..ing jerk!” “No, f….you! Listen, you fu….er, you f…..in’ f….with me and I’ll f….in’ f….you and your whole family, you f…..er.”
I could go on, but what’s the point?
After an hour, we both had head aches, the popcorn was gone, and we still had no idea why Kevin Garnett wanted the big gemstone or where it was by the time Adam Sandler got attacked at his daughter’s school play.
I am not f…..in’ making this up.
We looked at each other and recognized the horror on each other’s faces.
“Wanna get outta here?”, my honey asked me. I grabbed his hand and we bolted out of there.
From now on, Date Night will have to revolve around ice cream, a walk on the beach or a Disney Movie.
Thirty four years ago tonight, I was elated, scared, confident and worried. Thirty four years ago tonight, I was in Boston’s Brigham and Woman’s Hospital, trying with all my might to give birth to my first child.
It was a long and daunting process, but it ultimately resulted in Paul and I holding our very own daughter in our arms. I remember looking into her wide open dark eyes and thinking to myself that life would never be boring again.
One look at her sweet chin and I was in love. Head over heels, who-cares-about-the-rest-of-the-world in love, love, LOVE.
I remember one moment in the hospital. I was on lots of medication, having just had a C-Section. My baby girl was in my arms, the lights were low, and it was just the two of us, breathing in each other’s breaths. I was swept with the deep love that I felt; I knew that if anyone or anything threatened this child, I would kill them or die in the attempt.
I remember resting my cheek against hers and thinking about my Mom. “Wow,” I whispered into the quiet room, “Momma, now I know how much you love me.”
Nothing before that moment had allowed me to fully understand just how deeply my own Mother loved me. I finally understood.
My relationship with Mother has not always been smooth or gentle or free of the barbs that come with jealousy, anger, rebellion. My relationship with my daughter hasn’t either.
But now I find myself almost equally balanced between the two of them, and I am overwhelmed with how sweetly and how deeply my love for them both reaches.
My daughter is the best Mother I know.
She is devoted, calm, loving, supportive and flexible. She keeps her sense of humor intact.
Right now, she is pregnant with her third child; her health, her strength and her stamina are always a worry to me. She is an elementary school teacher, too, so rest time is not something that comes to her easily.
But she is smiling, happy with her life, excited about her career, her children, her new baby and the husband she loves.
She’s kind of my hero.
And my Mother, who will turn 90 in a few weeks, is my other hero. And my other worry.
Mom is still at home, with help from a health aide and from her children. She is increasingly fragile, increasingly confused, in need of more care every month.
It breaks my heart to see my warrior woman Momma, who was the first feminist I ever knew, sinking into her last days.
I go to see her once a week. We share a meal, we talk about the past, we do little chores around the house.
And every single time, Mom tells me that she is proud of me, and that she is grateful for my presence. She tells me that she loves me “more” than I love her.
Tonight my heart is filled with a potent mix of love, pride, sadness and joy.
I spent the day baking a beautiful chocolate cake with my grandkids, who love their Mom so much. There were paintings and macaroni necklaces to celebrate her birthday.
I looked at my little granddaughter at one point. I felt my place in a long, long, long line of women and their mothers and their daughters.
I owe my life to my Mom. In turn, she allowed me to have my daughter. Who has blessed my life with her own children.
I look at my grandchildren, dressed in dance clothes, frosting a cake that we’d made together. I thought of my Mom.
And by that I mean, almost everything about retirement is great.
In my retirement, I’m able to sleep until 8 pretty much every day. I get to drink my coffee slowly, in my pajamas.
I haven’t worn “dress shoes” more than three times in the past four years, and those were all weddings.
When it’s rainy, I stay warm and dry in my house. When it’s snowy, I get to go out and play, then come right back in to the fire and the hot soup. I can cook to my heart’s content. I have the time and the mental freedom to learn new things, like my creaky violin and my rudimentary Italian.
I get the grandkids every day, and nothing in the world tops that.
Best of all, I NEVER have to go to meetings. There’s no paperwork and no deadlines (other than getting to the potty in time.)
Because there are a couple of downsides, too.
There’s the fact that it took less than a year for me to be completely out of touch with the newest thoughts about education. I feel left behind and dumped at the curb.
I often feel useless.
Now, don’t start with all that “but the kids need you!” stuff. I know that. My job as chief caregiver for Ellie and Johnny is the most important one I could have. I love them so much that sometimes it actually hurts. They love me back.
But every once in a while, I hear myself utter a sentence like, “Let’s make a playdoh castle for the trolls!” That’s when I wonder where my formerly intellectual self has gone.
I miss being a deep thinker. I miss having rich conversations with my colleagues about our students. I miss doing diagnostic work, and recognizing how a child was processing the world.
Most of all, I miss the feedback that came with my professional life. I miss the hugs from the kids. Those I miss the most. I miss their smiles, and the little shared jokes that came with every class.
When I was teaching, I knew that I was going a good job. I knew because the kids told me. “You’re a funny teacher!,” they’d tell me. Or, “You’re nice.” I had kids tell me that I helped them understand themselves better, or that I helped them learn how to make mistakes without feeling bad about themselves.
I miss the feedback.
A smile from a parent, a “thank-you” from a worried Mom, hearing a grandparent say, “I’ve heard so much about you!”
I once had a child bring me a rutabaga, six months after he’d graduated to the next grade. It was hilarious, a reminder of a joke that had lasted for his entire fifth grade experience.
I miss that.
And I truly miss the feedback from colleagues; working with very smart teachers and sharing lesson plans made me feel bright by reflection. Sometimes in a TEAM meeting, I’d realize that my observations helped to clarify how a child was struggling. And I knew I was good at the job.
I love retirement. I love being a stay home Nonni and baking cookies on cold days. I am happy to play with toddlers and to read familiar books while snuggled on the couch.
But once in a while, I’d love to have some of that positive feedback that used to make me feel smart.
I’ve been a Red Sox fan since June of 1967. That was when my fifth grade teacher took our class to Fenway Park for a night game. I don’t remember who the Sox played that night, but I remember that the game went into extra innings, and that Tony Conigliaro hit a home run in the bottom of the tenth to win it.
I also remember that the picture of Tony C. in the program was about the cutest thing I’d ever seen in my life and my first real crush was born.
As was my life as a Red Sox fan.
If you follow baseball at all, you’ll know that the Boston team used to be famous for it’s inability to win. Year after year, we Sox fans would cheer ourselves hoarse in the spring and cry ourselves hoarse in the fall.
That all changed in October of 2004, when the Sox finally overturned the curse that had plagued them for 86 years. They won the World Series.
All of New England celebrated that victory. We were beyond thrilled, beyond excited, beyond proud. You would have thought that every one of us had pitched in the playoffs!
What made things even sweeter for us was that in order to make it into the World Series, our beloved boys has beaten the despised New York Yankees.
All year long, all through the 2004 season, and for several years afterward, everyone in New England talked about how much we hated the Yankees.
I remember how everyone talked about the two teams. Our guys were “The Idiots”; the Yankees were the “Evil Empire.” We adored the relaxed, fun feeling of our team. So they drank in the clubhouse, so what? We were charmed by the antics of Johnny Damon, chuckling at the image of his naked pull-ups.
And we all knew, deep in our very souls, that A-Rod was weak, whining and pitiful. We loathed Derek Jeter, who we considered to be cold, emotionaless. An automaton with no soul. Don’t even get me started on what we thought of Joe Torre, a manager as sour as our own Terry Francona was sweet.
Curt Schilling? Our brave hero!
Mariano Rivera? A fool.
And on and on it went. It was kind of fun, you know? Our shared adoration for one team and shared hatred for the other gave us a sense of belonging. It gave us a feeling of safety and security. It gave us a sense that we were a clan, protected by our loyalty to ourselves.
It was only during one of the off seasons that it occurred to me that we were being a little closed minded. I listened to an interview with Derek Jeter on XM Radio. I was surprised to realize that the man was articulate, intelligent, warm and funny.
And then I was surprised at my own surprise.
I am embarrassed at how long it took me to realize that just because a guy wore a Red Sox jersey, I couldn’t assume that he was a prince. The whole “team” thing was really only about baseball games, not character.
When all was said and done, Curt Schilling turned out to be someone I wouldn’t want to sit next to on a bus, while Derek Jeter is a guy I’ve truly come to admire.
So what does all this have to do with politics, you ask?
It’s the whole “Vote Blue No Matter Who” thing, that’s what. It’s the way that we immediately write off anyone who watches a different cable news channel than we do.
I know it can be fun to laugh at those memes about how stupid the “sheep” are because they can’t “think for themselves.” But this stuff is only funny when “our” side is saying it about “their” side. When the barb is turned around and aimed at “us”, we bristle and comfort ourselves by saying how hateful the other side is.
Here’s the thing: I have really strong political views. I’m a far left, progressive, Medicare-for-all, tuition-free-public-college, hippy snowflake. It would be really easy for me to pick a team.
But I’m no longer willing to assume that every other liberal thinker is a saint and every conservative a sinner. “We” aren’t smarter than “they” are. “We” aren’t kinder, or more gentle, or more deserving.
And we are NOT a team.
I don’t think of the political parties as teams. I don’t think of their followers as teams. I now realize that everyone who wears my favorite uniform isn’t a good guy and everyone who wears the other jersey isn’t criminal. I am no longer willing to vote for a candidate just because there is a D next to their name.
I have finally realized that I won’t be pitching in the playoffs. In fact, I know now that this isn’t actually a game and that I’m not bound by clan loyalty to help one team come out on top.
Because we live (at least theoretically) in a democracy, I am free to cast my vote for whichever candidate I prefer.
When I was nine years old, my school offered the opportunity to learn an instrument. We were told that we could become a part of our school’s orchestra.
I was thrilled at the idea, although I’m not sure why. My parents loved music, but neither was a musician. Still, I happily chose to play the viola, and joined the small group of music nerds in my elementary school.
I fell head over heels in love with the sound of that viola. I fell in love with the deep purple velvet that lined it’s case, and with the smell of the resin that I rubbed onto my bow.
As I played the viola, I learned about the joy of harmony, and was always thrilled to be the lower voice to that of the violin. To this day, I sing alto every chance I get.
My fourth grade year was largely shaped by my love of my Thursday morning orchestra rehearsals and my Tuesday after-lunch strings lesson. Sitting here right now, at the age of 63, I can still remember how I’d wish my Tuesday lunch time over, so that I could step onto the stage in our “cafetorium”, where the dusty curtain would be closed and the small group of violin, viola and cello players would practice in the musty warmth.
Playing my instrument, in a crowd of other young musicians, was magic to me. It lifted me out of my world and brought me into a world of sweetly entwining harmonies. I felt such a surge of power as I played my little beginners viola.
But at the end of that year, I learned that I wouldn’t be able to keep playing. My big family just didn’t have the money to allow me to continue.
I can still remember sitting in the back of the family car after our end-of-year concert. My parents were taking us out for ice-cream, to celebrate my musical achievement.
I couldn’t stop crying. Ice cream or none, I was heartbroken to give up my lovely, golden hued viola.
But life goes on, and childhood sadness fades away. I went on to have a happy childhood, a healthy adolescence and a very good adulthood.
Over the years, I’ve indulged my love of music by joining several choirs and by learning a little bit of acoustic guitar. I listen to music, of course, and I go to see live music as often as possible.
But I’ve still held onto the memory of that viola, of the sweet song of the bow being pulled across the strings. I never stopped wanting to try it again.
And here I am.
A grandmother, a lady with arthritic fingers and an achy back. A retired teacher. A good cook. A reader and a would-be-writer.
And I have once again taken up my beloved strings and bow. This time I am learning to play the violin, instead of the viola. This is in part because that’s what was available to me (thank you, brother Dave!). But it’s also because the violin is easier to learn.
Enter my wonderful, patient, talented, encouraging teacher, Susan.
My dream is coming true because of Susan’s gentle guidance. In the past four months, she has taught me how to hold my violin correctly, how to hold the bow and how to place my fingers. She’s shown me how to put enough weight in my wrist, and how to make “long bows” and “short bows.” The technical parts of playing are beginning to make some sense.
But here’s the best part of what she has taught me.
Susan has taught me to give myself some slack. She has shown me how to look at the goal, and not the individual steps to its achievement.
You see, I am kind of hard on myself when it comes to the violin. I know what a good violinist sounds like; they are sweet, and smooth and effortless. The voice of the instrument is tender and pure.
When I play, on the other hand, the strings tend to shriek. The bow bounces. My notes are either just a bit too sharp or just a bit too flat. I can’t seem to keep my aging eyes on the strings, the bow, my fingers and the music while also paying attention to the movement of my wrist and the position of my right shoulder.
I want to create the sounds that I hear in my head; I am not happy with the struggling, wobbling sounds that emanate from my violin.
Even my dog, Bentley, tends to howl when I play.
It’s demoralizing. It’s depressing.
But Susan keeps me on track. And here is how she does it:
Susan reminds me that children learn by simply doing. They do not think about each finger, they only think about the song to be produced.
“Look at the bigger picture,” she seems to say, “Make the music that you want, don’t keep questioning yourself.”
And she tells me to be patient with myself. She tells me that I am on a journey, and that every step is one to be celebrated. She constantly reminds me that this week I am able to play a simple song that was a struggle for me a week ago.
I am learning. I am growing. I need to embrace and celebrate my progress. I need to accept the fact that I am not an accomplished musician, but that I am someone who is moving forward.
The best part of what Susan has taught me, though, is that when I play music, I do it for myself. I am my only audience. I do this purely for pleasure.
This isn’t a job, or a class, or a medal to be earned. It’s a chance to express myself through music, through the music of a lovely, graceful stringed instrument. It’s a chance to send my emotions out into the air through my bow, through the vibration of these strings.
She is teaching me to take a breath, to do my best, to accept my mistakes and to enjoy my brief moments of musical beauty.
What I love is that these are the exact same lessons I have tried so hard to impart to my children, to my elementary school students, and to my grandchildren.
What a gift!
With my violin awkwardly tucked under my aging jaw, as I carefully pull the bow across those carefully tuned strings, I am reminded that moments of beauty, like moments of success, are both rare and precious.
No, not the geriatric news report. More like the ancient skeletons that scientists seem to keep finding in strange places. The old bones of our distant ancestors what are unearthed when archeologist and anthropologists get grants to muck about in the wilderness.
You know what I mean, don’t you?
Take the old Kennewick Man, for example. This old native American lived up in what we now call Washington State. But he lived there around 9,000 years ago.
His bones were dug up and all kinds of smart and learned people started to analyze his life. What he ate, where he lived, how he hunted. They figured all this out just from looking at his dusty old bones.
And then there’s Ötzi the Iceman, whose mummified remains were dug up in the Alps. He did his hiking some 5,000 years ago and died on one of his treks. (One of the many good reasons why I have told my husband that I’m no longer interested in mountain climbing.)
When scientists analyzed these remains, they were able to describe exactly what the dead men had eaten, and how long before their deaths those meals has been enjoyed. They looked at the bones, at the hair, at the teeth and the stomach contents and came up with all kind of facts about the men. Where they lived, what they did for work, how far each walked in a year.
So it got me thinking.
If I died today, and somehow got myself buried or frozen or mummified or hermetically sealed in a big old bag, what would future scientists make of my remains?
If they looked at my stomach contents, they would no doubt conclude that women who lived in my time were sustained by pasta, chocolate and a boatload of wine.
Suppose those future anthropologists examined my bones? I bet they would conclude that I had lived a highly active, athletic life. They might surmise that I had spent my adulthood working with my hands.
They would think these things because they’d see several broken fingers.
How would they know that all were broken when I tried to learn how to play basketball, but managed to jam my fingers more often that palm the ball?
They would see a broken bone in one foot and broken toes on each of my feet. “Athletic”, they might think. “Maybe a runner.”
I don’t suppose it would occur to them that I might have slipped off of a flip-flop while walking in the wet grass, thereby breaking a metatarsal bone. They’d have no way of knowing that I would have then stubbornly walked on that broken foot for six weeks before going to the doctor.
And there’s no way in the world that those future scientific geniuses would realize that by slightly favoring that right foot I would have caused my ankle to freeze up and for two of my toes to basically fuse.
I’m sure that if my old mummified carcass was examined closely by future scientists, they would see the scar tissue in my jaw, too. They might use that scarring to infer that I ate a lot of very tough and chewy meats. They might assume that I used my back teeth to chomp on fibrous vegetation, or large fruits and nuts.
How in the world could they know that my jaw was out of alignment because when I was 16 years old I accidentally threw away my orthodontic retainer, which my Mom had mailed to me while I was on a trip to North Africa?
They might think that the indentation on the right side of my forehead was caused by a fight, or a war or some other heroic action.
There is nothing about that divot to tell them that I dropped a huge canister vac on my head while falling down a flight of stairs.
So I wonder.
I wonder if Kennewick man was just a clumsy old dude who got drunk and landed in a bog? I wonder if Ötzi the iceman wasn’t really a high altitude shepherd with bad teeth from eating too much grain. Maybe he was a singer who was on tour in a mountain town when he passed out from a night of eating caramel corn.
I just know that we should question our assumptions.
And that if future anthropologist stumble across my frozen carcass, they will never guess what the tattoo on my back really means.
As an aging progressive socialist-leaning lefty, I am used to hearing my friends and family on the right screaming about those horrible “tax and spend liberals!”
I’ve grown up hearing the skeptical question, “How do you plan to pay for that?” when progressives ask for more support for the poor, better education, cleaner water, more affordable health care…….
“Oh, you crazy, bleeding heart fools! What about the DEFICIT?”
Back in 2013, the conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation, published an article warning us of the many dangers of an increasing federal deficit. They wrote:
President Obama’s high-debt policies will not only bequeath enormous financial burdens to future generations of taxpayers in the form of high levels of interest expense—projected by the Congressional Budget Office to approach a trillion dollars annually by 2023—but these policies will also significantly reduce personal incomes with which to pay these bills.
We liberals took a deep breath, and tried to convince the conservatives that it is both morally and economically wise to invest in the lives and health of the people in our country.
We were laughed at. A lot.
And yet here we are, in the waning days of 2019. The Republican party has been in control of the Senate and the White House for three years.
During those three years, the federal deficit has grown exponentially, as the following graphic will show:
What the hell?
Where are all those fiscal conservatives now? Where are the GOP voices screaming, “How are you gonna PAY for that tax cut?????”
Or even better, “How do you plan to pay for your huge boost in military spending?” Our defense budget has increased by $160 billion in two years under our current administration.
Where, oh, where, are all those outraged Republicans? Where are their memories?
While it is obvious to many that President Trump is suffering from some form of cognitive decline, I am now wondering if perhaps the condition is contagious.
I ask this because…..seriously…..where ARE all the fiscal conservatives? Why is the huge, and rapidly increasing federal deficit suddenly no big deal? Where are the Paul Ryan types who demanded a reduction in spending back in 2013?
Where is Lindsey Graham, who was so horrified about the deficit back in the Obama days? In October of 2015, Sen. Graham wrote:
The biggest domestic challenge facing our nation is our ballooning debt.
I believe the Heritage Foundation when it warns us about the dangers of an increasing federal budget deficit. I believe Lindsey Graham when he demands that the government stop spending more than it brings it.
Where is everyone else out there?
Is the entire GOP suddenly suffering from some form of memory loss? Some type of dementia?
What in the name of goodness is going on out there in the swamp?
Back in 2011, all three of my children moved out of our house within about a six week period.
Our oldest was already a college graduate, while her brothers were still in the process of getting their educations.
As a “MammaBear”, that year just about broke my heart.
I know, I know: it is a sign of having succeeded when your children reach adulthood and move out into this wide and wonderful world.
Still, for me the transition was the most painful thing I’d ever encountered.
I remember, so very clearly, one cold winter night after they’d all moved out. I couldn’t sleep. I tossed, and I turned, and I tried to visualize every beach I’d ever seen. At 2AM, my heart was knocking in my chest, and I got up.
I made my way through my silent house to the living room. I stood for a moment in the window, gazing out into the snowy, frozen night.
I knew that I was a very lucky woman; my husband of more than 30 years slept down the hall. Our dogs were snoozing on the couch.
Still. My heart hurt.
I sat down in the rocking chair where I’d so often held my children. I pulled a blanket around myself, and stared out into the starlit, frozen night.
And I wondered.
When was the last time that I’d sat here in the night, rocking a feverish little child? When had I last held one of my children to my heart and murmured words of comfort into their ear?
I didn’t know, and that realization had me curling forward, over my knees, sobbing into the winter night.
I wanted to go back! I wanted to recognize my last ever night of holding a sick baby in my arms. I wanted a do-over.
When do we sweep our children into our arms for the very last time? When do we hold them as they shiver with the chills, not knowing that this moment will never come again?
I was so filled with grief, even as I recognized how lucky I was to have brought three babies into a healthy adulthood.
I wanted, just for one more night, to hold a hot little body against my heart, to soothe and to comfort and to rock. I wanted the chance to feel so deeply needed, so wanted, so important.
In my sheltered and unimpressive life, those were my best, most competent, most meaningful moments.
And the years, as they do, went by.
My children made their way into their adult lives. They are happy, productive, loving and whole. My job should be done.
But I’m not ready to let go.
Last night our beautiful little granddaughter spent the night here. Her parents were committed to an event at the school where her Momma is a teacher. Her little brother went with them.
But Ellie had been running a fever for a few days. She couldn’t go to the game. We decided that it made sense for her to spend the night here with her Papa and I.
Because I take care of Ellie and Johnny every day, our house is all set up for them to sleep here. I had pajamas in the drawer. The “Nappie bed” was ready. Ellie’s Dad dropped off her favorite stuffies for the night.
All was well, more or less, as Ellie settled into her bed for the night. I was planning to turn on the monitor but let her sleep by herself just the way she does at home.
But at bedtime, her fever began to rise, and she became a little weepy. “Nonni, will you sleep with me?” she asked. My old momma heart rose in my chest, and I assured her that I’d be delighted.
The two of us snuggled into the nappy bed, where a nightlight, two strings of Christmas lights and a glowstick kept away both her fears and my ability to sleep.
By ten pm, Ellie was asleep, and Nonni was tossing and moving the blankets on and off.
By eleven, Ellie was panting, her eyes were glowing with fever, and she was sobbing about how much she wanted to go home.
I pulled out the thermometer for a check. When it read 105, my heart dropped. “This isn’t right,” I told myself, and checked once again. 104.8 was the reading this time around.
I jumped out of the bed, and poured a dose of ibuprofen. I went into the bathroom for a cool, wet facecloth and began to wipe down Ellie’s face and neck. I pulled back the covers, and whispered that I’d make it OK.
The poor little kid curled herself into my chest, and sobbed.
I suddenly remembered how much I’d missed rocking a hot little body in the night, and guilt flooded me. Had I somehow brought on her illness by wishing to be the one to comfort her?
In something of a panic, I texted Ellie’s Dad, telling him that she was crying to come home at midnight. He answered immediately that he’d be right there.
But common sense and a mother’s wisdom prevailed; as the medicine kicked in and her temperature dropped, Ellie’s Mom decided that it made no sense to take a sick toddler out into the icy cold of a Massachusetts’ December night. Better to wait until morning.
Of course, I did.
Because after that call, I found myself once again wrapped in a blanket, in my living room rocking chair, comforting a sick little child.
We rocked, she dozed, we rocked some more.
My arms went tightly around her, and I felt the familiar blessing of a tiny, hot hand, resting on my cheek in the darkest part of the night.
“I’m so happy that you’re here with me, Nonni,” Ellie whispered. “I’m having fun on our sleepover.”
I pulled her to me, as close as we could get. I kissed the sweaty hair on her brow, and handed her a cup of cool water.
“I am so lucky,” I said into her shoulder. “I am so lucky. Here you are. In my arms.”
It was three AM, and I was still holding her. Her breath was hot and panting on my cheek.
I was so sorry that she was sick. I prayed that I could pull the virus out of her and into myself. I was more than a little freaked out about her very high temperature.
I laid my cool cheek against her feverish one.
“I’m here,” I said.
“I know,” she whispered back.
That fever raged the whole night long. We rocked, we sang, we took medicine every few hours. Ellie panted, and dreamed and cried for home. But she also wound her arms around my neck and pulled me close.
My love for her is a deep and enduring echo of the love I held, and still hold, for her mother and her uncles. I remember every long, feverish night of their childhoods. I remember thinking, “Dear God, let this end!” and I remember my firm belief that I wouldn’t survive another all night rocking-the-sick-kid marathon.
But now I know that one long night is nothing.
I know that it is everything.
In the blink of an eye, these little children won’t need my loving care anymore.
And that is just as it should be.
But for now?
For now I am so happy to have had a chance to feel that too-hot hand resting on my cheek, and to feel those too-hot lips pressed to my neck with love and gratitude.
For now, I am so tired, and so worn down, and so very very very grateful to have had a chance to be the one taking care of a sick toddler in the darkest part of the night.
I hope she’s all better tomorrow. I hope that tonight she sleeps deeply and without a fever.
But I’ll be forever grateful for last night.
Exhaustion is a very small price to pay for being the one who magically makes things all better.
The other night I had a very sweet dream. I dreamed that I was asleep, and that my Dad was hugging me. I could feel his arm around my shoulder, and hear him breathing in my ear.
My Dad has been gone from us for 11 years, but I still feel him beside me. I can still see his smile, and his uplifted eyebrows and his loving gaze.
I miss him every single day.
So my dream was sweet, and touching, and it gave me enormous comfort.
That arm around me. The gentle breath in my ear. The feeling of being loved.
As I slowly came awake in the light of an early winter dawn, I realized that my feelings of Dad were only a dream. He was no longer here with us. He was gone.
There was definitely an arm around my shoulder, and it wasn’t my husband’s. There was a gentle breathing in my ear, but I could hear Paul snoring and I knew it wasn’t him.
I rolled over.
And found myself face to face with Bentley, our beautiful basset hound-labrador mix.
His front leg was, in fact, over my shoulder. His soft breathing was right at the level of my ear.
And I started to laugh. I laughed so hard, in fact, that I woke up my husband and had to explain what was making me so silly at 6AM.
You see, as I started to think about it, I could totally understand why I had confused my doggie with my Dad.
Both of them were given the special gift of being able to recognize people’s moods as soon as they were felt. Dad would ask me how I was doing when I was a mess of a teenager, seeming to know when I needed to talk even before I did. In the very same way, Bentley has the gift of showing up for a snuggle as soon as my spirits begin to sink.
Dad always gave unquestioning support just when a person would need it. Sometimes he’d just quietly sit beside me; Ben does the very same thing. He knows when my grandkids are sad, or upset, or not feeling at their best. He climbs up, sits beside them, and just gets ready to listen.
Dad and Bentley. I had to smile.
And the physical similarities really struck me, too.
Dad had short legs. Bentley is a basset hound. Nuff said.
Dad had a broad chest, and big shoulders. Ditto for Mr. Bentley Bass.
And the eyes; The big, warm brown eyes. Eyes that look right at a person and give them the feeling that their every word is a treasure.
Of course, not every feature can be complimented. The slightly large nose? Yup, and yup again. Two big schnozzolas. The bit of extra weight around the middle? More to love on both of them!
Dad had big ears. Bentley has ears so big that they get wet when he drinks.
And the personality quirks can’t be ignored, either. Both my beloved Dad and my darling doggie could be described as highly food motivated. Bring on a good meal, and Dad would be there before the table was set. Rattle a plastic bag, and Bentley will be in the kitchen before you can put it down.
Not to say that either could be called picky. Bentley will eat a bug if it’s the only thing around. I once heard my Dad say that the wine he was drinking was terrible, but he wasn’t about to let it go to waste.
When the kids get silly, and start to race around the house, Bentley joins in with delight, even when he clearly has no idea of what is going on. He’ll run in circles, bark happily, and chase kids up and down the hall for hours. The joy is the point, and he would never miss a chance to express it.
Dad was so much the same. I remember in my earliest childhood, sitting on his lap watching The Three Stooges. He would howl with laughter as he watched, and we all knew that a big part of his pleasure was in sharing the moment with his kids.
But for all of his joyfulness and all of his love, my Dad was also a very black and white thinker. Right was right, wrong was wrong and he rarely noticed a shade of gray. He could be rigid in his way, and very stubborn. He saw the world through his own lens.
My dearest doggie is the very same way. While he clearly loves his humans and delights in our happiness, he also sees the world through his very own eyes. ALL food is his food; if our other dog tries to eat at kibble time, Bentley is likely to stand over both bowls. It takes a stern human and some physical reorganization to get him to focus on only his own dish.
If we ask him to get up from the couch, or leave the kitchen while we cook, he will sit perfectly still and ignore us until a treat is proferred.
“Sure, I know what you want, ” he seems to be saying, “But I have my own way of approaching this problem.”
So much like Dad!
I’m not sure that I actually believe in reincarnation, but if I did?
A sweet, smart, big old lug with a love of food and fun, and a tendency to gaze at me with his big brown eyes?